How O.J. Simpson Tried—and Failed—to Rebrand Himself in Final Years (2024)

Long before Donald Trump was using social media to divide America, O.J. Simpson was among the country’s most polarizing figures. So when, in what ended up being his final years, Simpson used his Twitter/X account to to share his thoughts about literally anything and everything, he seemed to think he might be able to rebrand himself as something other than an acquitted murder suspect. But the reputation rehab never fully materialized.

One way “The Juice” had been attempting to position himself as a somewhat normalized figure in the public eye before his death this week at 76 was through his infamous “Hey Twitter World” videos—in which he’d talk to his phone camera about everything from Roe v. Wade to football game predictions.

But as “charming” as those videos may have been to some, celebrity branding expert Bernt Ullmann, known for his work with Nicki Minaj, Jennifer Lopez, Adam Levine, and more, tells The Daily Beast that there was ultimately nothing he could do to alter the public’s negative perception about him.

“[Simpson] went from beloved to reviled, and I think it’s fair to say that what happened to him off the field did irreparable harm to his personal brand,” Ullmann explains. “Having said that, there is an interesting aspect to this—because if you look at O.J.’s age, he’s from an era well before social media, and yet has over 800,000 followers on social. That’s not nothing.”

Ullmann says that despite having been reviled, Simpson could have used the goodwill he was finding with younger generations and those who’d always supported him to revamp his image—but he was missing a mea culpa moment.

“Typically when those comeback stories happen and when people are given a second chance, there is an element, for lack of a better term, of a mea culpa, where the offending talent kind of cops to something and says, ‘Gee, these things went wrong,” which Simpson never did, even when he was convicted of attempting to steal his sports memorabilia. “Very often the recipe [for a comeback] includes a stint at the rehab center, blame it on some type of substance abuse, and then reemerge kind of repackaged,” Ullmann continues, and “that didn’t happen here.”

In fact, Simpson often did the very opposite of creating that redeeming moment, like when he released the book If I Did It: Confessions of the Killer in 2007, a hypothetical crime novel about what would have happened if he’d murdered his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend, Ron Goldman, for which he was acquitted in 1995.

A year after that book came out, Simpson was convicted for the attempted trophy robbery and spent nine years in prison before his release in 2017.

Emerging into a new media world, he joined Twitter in 2019 and started posting videos of himself discussing the news of the day. Several YouTube users have done the honors of compiling the intros to many of the videos, nearly all of which he starts with, “Hey Twitter world, it’s yours truly.”

Among some of the more unexpected stories Simpson decided to wade into in recent years included the Tiger King saga in 2020 (“White people! What’s with you and wild animals?”) and Gwyneth Paltrow’s ski trial last March (“accidents happen skiing, I don’t know how you could try to sue anybody for crashes on a ski slope.”) The latter video has nearly half a million views.

Ullmann says the fact Simpson was able to cultivate a following for himself actually shows he may have eventually been able to revamp his image, even after so many slip-ups. “A lot of [his] following, particularly from a younger audience, was based on his notoriety,” he explains. “I think it’s fair to say that somehow he managed to leverage the notoriety to build a little bit of an audience, [but] it never really translated to anything,” he continues. “I think one of the reasons is—we often say that ‘Your network is your net worth,’ and I think his network abandoned him.”

All of Simpson’s often strange self-posted videos feature him alone, sometimes near a pool, on a golf course, or in a sports bar—and almost felt like more casual versions of the “From the Desk of” series Trump would share on YouTube in the years before the 2016 campaign. Ullmann says though his videos could possibly have come across as “authentic” or “charming” to some, the fact that Simpson always appeared along gave them an alienating factor.

“He became a liability. [It] didn’t even matter whether you thought he was guilty or you didn't think he was guilty, he was polarizing enough that no one that had the ability to help him in his journey back wanted to be affiliated with him,” Ullman says.

Though Simpson never gave the public the true confessional moment that might have seen him invited back into publicly acceptable spaces, he certainly left a unique imprint in today’s culture that many people who weren’t even old enough to have lived through his murder trial have been able to feel.

Case in point: On the day of his death, “Goodbye Twitter World” trended on X.

How O.J. Simpson Tried—and Failed—to Rebrand Himself in Final Years (2024)
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